Fear. Why are so many people afraid of being leaders? Is it because our approval of our political leaders is at an all-time low and we don’t want to be on the spot or under the microscope? Or is it because there is a mystique around being a leader that it takes special qualities that we are afraid we don’t possess? Or is it just because we are happy enough to let someone else take the lead and extend themselves and stay ourselves in our comfort zones?
Probably all of the above. And based upon my recent travels to Wisconsin and Indiana, it sounds like building and ensuring future chapter leadership, especially the President position, is a concern from coast to coast. In Milwaukee, leaders from the Milwaukee, Fond du Lac Chapter and Oshkosh chapters gathered at the home of Milwaukee co-president Jean Phelan, where they shared with me their current challenges around getting great volunteers to step up to leadership positions. I heard the same at lunch with leaders from the Fort Wayne Chapter after a visit to their coat distribution center. And I’ve heard it from other chapters as well as the National Board.
We were fortunate to have as our Keynote speaker at Convention Erin Lawler, a mediator and dispute resolution expert who also is the daughter of immediate past NCCS Treasurer Joan Watkins. At her session on Communications Skills for Women Leaders (opens in a new window; scroll down the Convention page to her presentation and hand-out) Erin got to the nub of some of the discomfort many women have–and can overcome–when discussing sensitive or controversial issues that arise in volunteer organizations. And there are many more educational opportunities NCCS can and will provide going forward, on leadership competencies ranging from planning and execution, meeting management, delegation and empowerment, public speaking–and more. Yet it strikes me that sometimes, particularly in the context of Christ Child, we make leadership seem harder than we need to.
Vision. As Fr. Ted Hesburgh (opens a new window), President Emeritus of Notre Dame University, has famously said regarding leadership: “The very essence of leadership is that you have to have vision. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.” Mary Virginia Merrick, Servant of God (opens in a new window), laid it out pretty simply for us didn’t she? There’s no lack of clarity in the statement “Nothing is ever too much to do for a child.” Likewise, there is no lack of relevance of our mission. In Sunday’s Gospel from Matthew, we were reminded that “whatever you do for the least brothers of mine, you do for me.” Serving our least brothers is the heart and soul of Christ Child, so we each have a leg up as potential leaders by virtue of our very clear mission and focus.
Example. We are also strong in terms of leadership by example. St. Francis said “It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.” Just this past week I received a video clip (opens in new window) from the Fort Wayne chapter where the local TV station was honoring the Christ Child Coat Chair Janet Didier and her husband for their community impact. Janet immediately made the story about the Christ Child and leading by example. Take a look at the story! (opens in a new window)
Thanks. One area we could probably do better in is appreciating the leaders we have today and their incredible contributions. I was reminded of this recently in a beautiful way at the home of Immediate Past Washington D.C. President Tricia Boland Jones, who gathered the leaders and their spouses from her term as President for a Mass with the chapter’s spiritual advisor and a lovely dinner after that. No agenda, no donations. Just thanks. It was beautiful to witness–and a great party I was lucky to be invited to!
So on this eve of Thanksgiving, thank You, Lord, for all the Christ Child Society’s leaders. From our intrepid and ambitious foundress to every leader who founded or is working to found a chapter. To all the leaders who have contributed to so many of our chapters providing 50 years or more of service in their communities. To every committee or event chair or officer who stayed in position longer than planned (or desired) to ensure a smooth transition to a new leader. To those who stepped up when it wasn’t the perfect time in your work or personal life. To all who have offered to serve on the National Board to bring your talents to help other chapters. All of you have answered the call and have kept us on track to serve children in need first and foremost. God bless you and your families and may God continue to bless us all in our important work.
Finally, a prayer in Thanksgiving for all who’ve “gone before us”: All those whom we’ve loved and lost to death. All those who’ve made our paths forward easier. All those who’ve dared to walk ahead when we were afraid or unable. Thanks for our parents and grandparents–and for all our lives’ leaders, especially the “little Child who leads us”.